Everybody loves a party, right? Wherever there is food and fun, people will follow. The words “You’re invited” have a welcome ring to them. This Sunday’s readings from scripture abound with images of celebrations, feasting, food, and of course, humankind’s uncanny ability to make a mess of things. In Exodus 32, the people of Israel are tired of waiting for Moses and start their own “party” with a god of their own creation— a golden calf.
“They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel,” says the writer. But things don’t go so well for the impatient partygoers, and they end up drinking the dust of their own idol. In the Gospel scripture from Matthew, Jesus speaks of a wedding banquet and unwilling and unprepared guests. Again, things don’t go so well for those who fail to follow proper party etiquette.
Fortunately, outer darkness, weeping, and gnashing are not the last word. The Lord of Hosts is much bigger than our messes and will not permit us to spoil the divine banquet. God has other plans and, as the consummate host, continually invites us to the divine party. The Hebrew Scripture Isaiah 25 and Psalm 23 speak also to us of feasting, of bountiful tables spread, of overflowing cups, of well-aged wines and rich food. There are no tears and no fear when God is the host, only goodness and mercy.
Sometimes it’s comforting to be reminded that our instant-gratification culture is not a by-product of the digital age, nor a particular failing of “young people these days.” Unwillingness to wait, desire for immediate tangible results, and impatience with the mysterious slowness of spiritual life seem to go back millennia, rather than being a hallmark of the Millennial generation. we are worshiping something that is decidedly not God.
Part of the difficulty is that, at least initially, the idea seems to make sense. People desire a deeper relationship with God— how can we resist giving it to them? Resist we must, because no preacher, teacher, pastor, or parent has ever been able to simply hand spiritual depth over on a golden platter. Building a relationship with anyone let alone our God takes time. Even face to face, it took many days for Moses and God to get to know each other well enough to reach the point where the commandments could be delivered, let alone where they spoke to each other “as one speaks to a friend.”
Desire for relationship is the first step, and the Israelites certainly had that. But a spiritual life, whether that of an individual or a community, also requires effort, energy, honesty, perseverance, endurance, and trust. We have to be willing to wait, to “trust in the slow work of God,” to sit in silence, to put in the same amount of time both listening and speaking as we would with a human friend. But it is so much easier to work with something we can see and touch.
As a leader, it is so much easier to offer the cheap facsimile than to nurture true spiritual relationship. Look at our leaders not only around the world but here in Australia. After what appears to be too tough times we elect leaders who promise us the world, promise us that we will be great. These leaders don’t tell us the journey we need to go on to reach there. No, they tell us we can have it now.
But as we know if we have read this scripture, this story ends strangely with Moses convincing God to reclaim the people as God insists they belong to Moses. (God having apparently forgotten how much work it was to convince Moses to go back to Egypt in the first place!) Yet even knowing this story, the temptation is great. It takes a long time, and “we don’t have a clue” what is happening during the time when nothing appears to be happening, and suddenly we are sacrificing and dancing and giving our hearts to something hard, cold, and unforgiving.
We may tire of wondering what the golden calf looks like in our community. It is important that our own spiritual lives are strong, so we don’t fall into Aaron’s trap of believing we can provide people with anything more than tools and space to seek, no matter how uncomfortable or anxious they (or we) might be. The invitation is explicit though. God’s desire is to include us in the never-ending salvation celebration. Come with rejoicing and thanksgiving to the table for Communion, for a potluck and fellowship, and for eternity. Celebrate the goodness and mercy of God!